‘Not something that is sustainable’: Dane Co. Sheriff responds to Black Caucus jail renovation plans

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett is reacting to the new Jail Consolidation Plan proposed by the Black Caucus of the Dane County Board, and he’s not convinced it’s a good idea.

“Looking at this from a critical lens with regard to their proposal, it’s just not something that is sustainable, not only now, but for the future of Dane County,” Barrett said.

The plan presents an alternative to the current planned facility, which is currently stalled without the approval of the $10 million more needed to get it back on track.

The plan from the Black Caucus would shave 100 beds and an entire floor off of the current planned facility in order to keep it on budget. It also includes several specific criminal justice reform policies, like weekend court and bail reform aimed at lowering the jail population, something the current plan doesn’t have.

Barrett says the reduction in beds won’t limit the jail population and will only perpetuate the issue with the old jail.

“If we do have a safe, humane, rehabilitative, and sustainable facility, that will allow the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to vacate the 6th and 7th floors of the City-County Building,” Barrett said. “If we build a facility that is too small, we will have to extend the life of that City-County Building, which will continue to keep residents, professional staff, deputies, and volunteers in an unsafe and borderline unconstitutional building moving forward.”

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Supervisor April Kigeya of the Black Caucus disagrees. She says the criminal justice reform policies in their plan will eliminate the need for more beds by reducing the jail population overall.

“If we address the racial inequalities and disparities, we won’t need to fill it up, so the bed number shouldn’t be an issue,” said Kigeya. “If we go with the jail plan that’s currently in place, it’s going to be full. If you build it, they will come, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

The current jail facility has 1013 beds. As of today, it’s housing 776 residents. The Black Caucus’s proposed facility would have 725 beds, 100 less than the current planned new facility and almost 200 less than the 922 beds that the most recent jail population study determined would be necessary.

Barrett emphasized that the current plan is already a compromise with a reduction in beds from the original planned 922.

“Any further reduction is just putting us in a position where we’re not going to be able to close the City-County Building, but also, we will have a facility that is overpopulated, doesn’t focus on rehabilitation, and puts us right back in the same spot that we’re in now,” said Barrett.

Kigeya says she’s confident that the reforms outlined in the Black Caucus’ plan would lower the jail population before the new facility is even open, and she says that’s a good thing.

“We’re not saying, ‘Here’s 725 beds, now fix it.’ We actually want to fix it, which will in turn reduce the number,” said Kigeya. “The other thing to note is that if this passes, or any proposal that passes, it’s going to take three to four years for it to be built anyway. We want to start working on these programs right away.”

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Kigeya says she was surprised that the Sheriff doesn’t support their plan, but she says ultimately, it’s not up to him.

“It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t support it, however, we don’t need his support for it to pass,” said Kigeya.

The Black Caucus’ resolution will go to a committee vote Thursday night. If it passes there, it will come to a final vote from the Dane County Board of Supervisors at their meeting next Thursday, August 18. If the Board votes to pass the resolution, Kigeya says they would start implementing their criminal justice reform policies right away.

Barrett says he supports any plan that would build a new, safe, and humane facility. In his opinion right now, that would be the current plan that has stalled. Without enough votes on the Dane County Board of Supervisors to pass the additional $10 million in funding, the plan would need a referendum to approve the money in order to get it going.

RELATED: Dane County executive, sheriff propose public referendum on jail consolidation project costs

“At the end of the day, we are all one wrong decision from ending up in the Dane County Jail, and that includes me,” said Barrett. “I want to make sure that anyone, daughters, sons, parents, grandparents that happen to make a mistake and end up in our facility are in a safe, humane, rehabilitative facility that is sustainable for future growth here in Dane County.”